In the beginning was the music

Music has been a key part of Olympic Games pageantry throughout the ages, starting in the ancienct arts contests. As Baron Pierre de Coubertin wanted to merge arts and physical culture when refounding the Games in 1896, he might have been looking for something really special to kick off each Olympics.

The Olympic Hymn by Spyridon Samaras, first performed at the opening ceremony of the 1896 Athens Games, might sound awkwardly bobmbastic to today's listeners. The lyrics by Kostis Palamas seem even more out of time. The literal English translation of the last verse (though never sung that way) for example reads like this:

Plains, mountains and seas glow with you
Like a white-and-purple great temple,
And hurries at the temple here, your pilgrim,
O Ancient immortal Spirit, every nation.

Hard stuff, but it has survived through generations - even more. The International Olympic Comitee made the song its official hymn as late as 1958. Since the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Games, it is sung whenever the flag with the five rings is hoisted.

But even much fanfare can sound mild and peaceful if it is performed in the right way. May personal favourite is the version by Norwegian singer Sissel Kirkeby at the start of the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games:

The "Ancient immortal Spirit" seems to be rather down to earth in this tune.

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